Harvard Business School Application Essays & Deadlines for 2015-2016

MBA applicants, start your engines. A handful of the top U.S. business schools have already released their application essays and admissions deadlines, it’s that time of year when we start digging into them for you. Today, we’re going to start with the business school with the biggest name and the earliest Round 1 deadline: Harvard Business School.

After years of slimming its essays down to the point where it had only one essay and even made it optional, HBS has changed course this year. The school has an all-new essay prompt, and it’s no longer optional. The essay becoming mandatory again actually isn’t huge news; in a recent blog post, HBS Admissions Director explained that, not surprisingly, every applicant submitted a response. So, no point in making the essay optional and confusing the issue. There’s one essay in the application (not counting the Post-Interview Reflection), and you’re going to write it if you want to get into HBS.

Without further ado, here are Harvard’s deadlines and essays (including the “Post-Interview Reflection”), followed by our comments in italics:

Harvard Business School Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: September 9, 2015
Round 2: January 6, 2016
Round 3: April 4, 2016

Harvard still has the earliest Round 1 deadline in the business, although the school’s Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines are exactly the same as they were last year. To give you an idea of how much this deadline has crept up over the years, back in 2008 HBS’s Round 1 deadline came on October 15! Harvard’s Round 3 deadline moved up two days this season, but that’s the only change this season.

Harvard Business School Admissions Essays

  • It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting. Introduce yourself. Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them. We suggest you view this video before beginning to write. (No word limit)

    Harvard went with an entirely new essay prompt this year. Last year’s “What else would you like us to know?” question seemed effective, but this change tells us that the HBS admissions committee is still trying hard to break applicants out of the habit of writing overly formal essays that don’t tell them anything interesting. While Harvard is normally a trendsetter, this year the school follows in the footsteps of schools such as Stern and Fuqua, which have used similar questions in recent years.By trying to put you in the shoes of students who have already gotten in and are now introducing themselves to their classmates, HBS wants get you to write with as natural a voice as is possible. In fact, in the blog post that introduces this question, Dee Leopold urges you to imagine “saying it out loud.” Of course, you will (and should) put more thought into this essay than you would put into what few words you might say to break the ice in Aldrich Hall.

    Any essay you write here still needs to help you do at least one of the two things that all successful MBA applicants do — demonstrate fit with HBS and also stand out in a very competitive field of applicants. Resist the urge to go for a gimmick, but don’t be afraid to truly listen to Leopold and actually let your hair down a bit. What brought you to this point in your life? What do you want to do after HBS? (Remember, write in the voice of someone who’s already gotten in.) What do you like to do outside of school and work? What gets you up in the morning? What would you say in your verbal introduction to get a laugh out of your new friends?

    Of course, the challenge is that there’s a lot that you would normally emphasize in a more traditional essay (“Why an MBA? Why now? Why HBS?”) that you probably wouldn’t say as you’re speaking to your new classmates. While in a traditional essay you might want to go on and on about how your minimal community involvement is actually something you’re really passionate about, how much time would you really spend on that in a verbal introduction? So, those things need to come out in your resume, your recommendations, and — should you get that far — your admissions interview.

    Overall, we bet that applicants will still err on the side of being too formal (and to wordy!) with this essay. One way to combat this is to actually record yourself doing a verbal introduction of yourself, and then, once you have a complete draft of an essay, compare it to see how much it matches it in terms of tone and length (not necessarily in terms of exact content). If your written piece is much longer or much more formal than your verbal sample, you know you have a bit more work to do to get to what the Harvard Business School admissions committee wants to see. We expect that most great responses will take up less than 1,000 words (maybe even more like 500 words) here.

  • Post-Interview Reflection: Within 24 hours of the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection through our online application system. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process.

    The Post-Interview Reflection gives you a chance to include anything you wish you had been able to mention in the interview, and to reframe anything that you discussed but have since thought about a bit more. You will submit this piece within 24 hours of your interview.Especially since this letter has no word limit, the temptation will be for you to cram in half a dozen additional things that you wish you had covered in the interview. However, less is always more — keep the note limited to no more than two or three core ideas that you want to highlight. Ideally you covered all of the important things in the interview already, but of not, then this is a chance to hit on those here. Keep in mind, though, that sharing these ideas in the interview is always going to be more effective than cramming them into this note.

    Finally, be realistic about how much this letter will help you. Chances are that it won’t turn a dud of an interview into a terrific one in hindsight. Do NOT go into the interview with this note already drafted; let it truly be a reaction to the discussion, which was hopefully an interesting and provocative one. If your interviewer reads this note and it sounds like a replay of an entirely different discussion than what he or she remembers, that will only serve to hurt you come decision time.

Read more of our thoughts on the HBS essay here.

Every year we help dozens of applicants apply to Harvard Business School. Want to see if you have what it takes to get into HBS? You can get a free profile evaluation from a Veritas Prep MBA admissions expert. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Scott Shrum